The Bowling Dementors

I wonder what was going through the mind of Tom Banton just before 5pm this afternoon? He had gritted it out for 77 balls earlier in the day in the teeth of the remorseless Hampshire seem attack for just 2. He had resisted to his great gredit his natural instinct to counter-attack wanting to demonstrate his credentials for the longer form of the game, and then Craig Overton arrived at the crease

County Championship Division One, Somerset v Hampshire, The Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton, May 19st to 22nd 2022 Day 1 Somerset 211 All Out, Hampshire 29-0

What Somerset needed in the final part of the final session was a couple of quick wickets. What Somerset got was an exact copy of the first hour of their own innings, a turgid scoring rate but no breakthrough. While everyone seems to have a different view of what is a par score on what appears to be a good pitch being used superbly by top quality bowlers, Somerset need to bowl superbly, catch all their catches and have the rub of the green if they are to keep Hampshire close on first innings. Tomorrow promises to be another tense tight day of Championship cricket.

We said in the preview that this would be a real test of Somerset’s recently improved form. A Hampshire side which was so close last season and has made, excepting their thrashing at The Oval, a strong start to their 2022 campaign. And so it proved on day one.

Tom Abell celebrated his 100th first-class appearance for the county by winning the toss and choosing to bat. While it was understandable given the last two performances that Abell wanted to follow the successful template when he elected to have first use of the pitch it was widely felt that this was a more marginal decision on what looked to be a slightly more bowler-friendly surface.

The other difference here is that Hampshire’s potent and experienced bowling attack were able to get first use of the new batch of Dukes balls in conditions that they might not have relished but that they would have felt gave them at least a fairer balance between bat and ball than we have seen in both divisions of the county championship in recent weeks.

Matt Renshaw who was to get his county cap from Marcus at lunchtime and Lammonby started with great circumspection against Barker and Abbas. That took the score to 37 after an hour, with few real alarms and were beginning to look like they had weathered the initial threat when Abbott persuaded Lammonby to play something a little to ambitious outside his off stump and only succeed in in guiding the ball into the hands of Liam Dawson at second slip.

Fifteen minutes later Matt Renshaw, who would have desperately wanted to be unbeaten at lunch, for more than one reason, departed in an almost carbon copy of his opening partner’s dismissal, this time off Ian Holland. When Tom Abell played on to Mo Abbas on 6 twenty minutes before lunch Somerset were in peril at 55-3.

Tom Banton and James Hildreth saw Somerset through to lunch without further loss adding just five runs. Runs that had to be chiselled out of the impenetrable granite that was this Hampshire seam attack. While there will be many reading this who will see the outcome of the first session as primarily the result of poor shot selection by the Somerset batsmen that would be to devalue the performance of Abbott, Abbas, Barker and Holland. They just kept coming and even when they were not taking wickets seemed to be sucking the life out of the Somerset batsmen – made me think of the dementors in the Harry Potter books!

If Somerset were, to continue the wizarding analogy, break the spell, it was going to require one or both of Banton and Hildreth to play substantial inning(s) in both quantity and style. The shackles needed to be broken. But neither could deliver. If anything the bowling after lunch was even more testing than it had been before. Hildreth was the fourth wicket to fall but instead of the 292 that was on the board when he departed at Bristol last week the total was just 77.

You could sense the pressure on Banton building as the afternoon progressed, the departure of Hildreth didn’t exactly help. After 76 balls of self-control (despite I reckon every fibre in his body wanting to attack he was determined to avoid getting out to something reckless) he played across the line to Abbott and inevitably the umpire adjudged he was lbw. As they say “look in the book” but on this occasion 24 off 77 balls is not the reward his efforts deserved. But I am seriously impressed with this red-ball version of Banton, he is showing he has what it takes to succeed in this format and just needs time. The big scores will come and when they do I suspect they will come in both volume and style.

Lewis Gregory could not repeat his productivity of last week so Craig Overton joined Steve Davies in the 54thover. The initial task had to be to get to tea without further loss which, in their contrasting styles they had almost achieved when work dragged me away for half an hour. When I returned on the stroke of tea Craig had taken the newly introduced Liam Dawson’s off-spin for two sixes. It would have been no surprise, a huge disappointment but no surprise, if Craig hadn’t made it to the interval but it was Davies who departed to give Dawson some pre-tea consolation. 29 for Davies, another innings where he has got in but not gone on, another major disappointment for him and us.

But the surprises before tea were not over. Even the most ardent of the #JoshDaveyWatch Alliance would have given you long odds against their man getting off the mark in the penultimate over before tea with a maximum. But he did, Dawson again the victim to leave him with the bizarre figures of 2-0-18-1 at the break.

Perhaps the decision had been made that against this Hampshire attack the lower order would be best advised to try something more expansive rather than just bat time. But assuming it had I can’t believe that Jason Kerr who is nothing if not a pragmatist, would have suggested to Josh this approach in the last few balls before tea!

Overton and Davey continued to build what would be the highest partnership of the innings. Craig had double his tea time score when he didn’t quite get hold of another aggressive shot and was caught in the deep by Felix Organ. Jack Leach shone briefly for a 14 ball 13 which included three 4s and Peter Siddle followed a sumptuous cover driven boundary with a play and miss to give Fuller his second wicket.

This doesn’t seem to me like a pitch on which either side is going to take a commanding lead but it is going to require patience and control with both bat and ball to come out on top. While it is disappointing that no breakthrough has been made in the Hampshire reply a quick scan of the Somerset bowling figures should offer comfort, the respective economy rates are very impressive; Davey 2.0, Overton and Siddle 1.6 and Lewis Gregory1.33. Pressure of that kind brings wickets, and Somerset need a few tomorrow morning.